Indonesia Identifies Palm Sunday Bombers as Islamic State Newlyweds

Indonesian police examine the site outside a church after an explosion in Makassar on March 28, 2021. (Photo by INDRA ABRIYANTO / AFP) (Photo by INDRA ABRIYANTO/AFP via Getty Images)
INDRA ABRIYANTO/AFP via Getty Images

Indonesian police said on Monday that the perpetrators of the Palm Sunday suicide bombing attack on a cathedral in Makassar were a married couple that belonged to an extremist group allied with the Islamic State.

The bombers were the only fatalities in the attack, which injured about twenty people.

The attack was carried out Sunday by two bombers who tried to enter the church grounds on a motorcycle as Palm Sunday Mass was concluding at 10:30 a.m. local time. After security guards tackled the male terrorist, the pressure-cooker bomb they carried was detonated, killing both terrorists and injuring about 20 people, including the security guards. Officials said 15 victims were still hospitalized on Monday.

Security camera footage captured the explosion rocking the side entrance of the church and blowing debris into the road. Eyewitnesses reported seeing injured people covered with blood lying in the street, including children. The Associated Press obtained a video that showed “body parts scattered near a burning motorbike at the gates of the church,” presumably the remains of the bombers, since no other fatalities have been reported.

The mayor of Makassar, Danny Pomanto, said there would have been more casualties if the bomb had detonated at the main entrance.

According to the police, the bombers were a male in his mid-twenties and his wife, of comparable age, identified only by their initials “L” and “YSF.” They were described as “newlyweds” and members of an “Islamic study group,” several of whose members were arrested and charged with helping to prepare the attack. 

A Makassar resident told the Jakarta Post (JP) the man worked as a foodseller who lived in a rented house near the home of his parents. The resident said the bomber was “nice as a kid,” but “didn’t really socialize around here” as he grew older. A source inside Indonesia’s security services told Reuters the male bomber was a “college student.”

National police chief Listyo Sigit Prabowo said the bombers are thought to be members of Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), an ISIS-inspired extremist group founded in 2015 that has a history of attacking churches and police stations in Indonesia and the Philippines. 

JAD has formally sworn allegiance to the Islamic State and is considered the largest ISIS terrorist network currently active in Indonesia, especially since members with combat experience gained fighting for ISIS in Iraq and Syria began returning home to Indonesia.

Prabowo said the male Palm Sunday attacker is believed to be linked to a 2019 suicide bombing attack on Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral in the Philippines, and both bombers had ties to a group of militants arrested by Indonesian counterterrorism police in January. Indonesian counterterrorism forces have been on high alert ever since the January arrests and report foiling several retaliatory terrorist attacks against churches and police stations.

The JP reported raids at several locations in Makassar and the Indonesian capital of Jakarta uncovered “a cache of powerful explosives and bomb-making ingredients.” Nine suspects have been arrested since Sunday in connection with the plot. Prabowo said four suspected accomplices were arrested in the city of Bima on Sunday.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo “strongly condemned” the “act of terror” on Sunday.

“Terrorism is a crime against humanity. I call on everyone to fight against terror and radicalism, which go against religious values,” Widodo said.

Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, and Makassar is one of its largest cities. Religious freedom is guaranteed by the Indonesian constitution, but Christians and other religious minorities have suffered under both Islamist terrorist attacks and legal discrimination.

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